NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It was an emotional day Monday, as an NYPD officer was released from the hospital after being critically injured in a Coney Island apartment building fire last month
Holding flowers and surrounded by family, Officer Rosa Rodriguez, 36, was wheeled out of Weill Cornell Medical Center to the sound of bagpipes. Her children led the way as their mother began her journey home.
Fellow officers clapped and cheered as the beaming mother of four got into a waiting car after spending six weeks in the hospital, which included four days in a coma.
Rodriguez’s supervisor, Deputy Inspector Carlos Valdez, said Monday was not just a big day for Rodriguez, but also for her colleagues.
“It’s a huge, huge morale booster for her to walk out and be able to communicate well,” he told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell.
“Something like this makes us feel good to be here for her,” Officer Jennifer Gibbons told CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang.
As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported, Valdez said even during her recovery, Rodriguez never lost a fighting spirit.
“When she started coming around a couple of weeks ago – she was able to speak, but just with a whisper — she was ready to go out and go back on patrol. I told her to take it easy,” Valdez said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton were among those cheering her recovery.
Family members of Officer Officer Dennis Guerra, 38, were also on hand. Guerra was Rodriguez’s partner, who died from injuries he suffered in the April 6 fire — a reality not lost on Rodriguez’s doctors.
“It could have had a different ending, and sadly for her partner, it did have a different ending, and that puts a little bit of a damper on today,” said Dr. Palmer Bessey.
On her way home, Rodriguez wore a button with Guerra’s photo on it.
Doctors said the toxic smoke Rodriguez inhaled caused so much damage to her lungs that she needed to be put on a breathing machine for a month.
“We estimated that she probably had about 45 to 50 percent statistical chance of dying, but our sense was she wouldn’t and she didn’t, and we’re delighted,” he told 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon.
Now, Bessey said, Rodriguez is on the road to an eventual recovery.
“She lost a lot of strength and stamina, but is building up a little bit more every day,” Bessey said.
Even with her release, doctors said Rodriguez still faces a long recovery. It is not clear if she will return to work.
Guerra and Rodriguez were responding to the fire at a New York City Housing Authority high-rise on Surf Avenue when they were both overcome by carbon monoxide and smoke.
Police said 16-year-old Marcell Dockery admitted to lighting a mattress on fire in the hallway of the building because he was bored. The teen faces several charges, including felony murder, arson, assault and reckless endangerment.
“The senseless act of setting that fire tragically led to the death of NYPD Officer Dennis Guerra. His partner Officer Rosa Rodriguez suffered critical injuries,” Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said last month. “Both dedicated and courageous officers did not hesitate to risk their lives to save others.”
But Dockery claims through his lawyer that he did not set the fire and the alleged confession was coerced.
“He is not guilty of these charges, that not only is he presumed innocent, but he is, in fact, innocent,” said defense attorney Jesse Young.
If convicted, Dockery faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
Police said Guerra was the first NYPD officer to die in the line of duty since 2011, when Officer Peter Figoski was shot and killed while responding to a robbery in Brooklyn.
More than 10,000 people lined the streets to salute Guerra during his funeral in April.
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